We were talking about The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which was something which resembled an iPad, long before it appeared. And I said when something like that happens, it’s going to be the death of the book. Douglas said, No it won’t be. Books are sharks.
And I must have looked baffled at that because he looked very pleased with himself. And he carried on with his metaphor. He said, Books are sharks … because sharks have been around for a very, very long time. There were sharks before there were dinosaurs. And the reason sharks are still in the oceans is that nothing is better at being a shark than a shark is.
He said, Look at a book. A book is the right size to be a book. They’re solar-powered. If you drop them, they keep on being a book. You can find your place in them in microseconds. They’re really good at being books, he said, and books, no matter what else happens, will always survive. And of course he’s right.
Another thing that got forgotten was the fact that against
all probability a sperm whale had suddenly been called into existence several
miles above the surface of an alien planet. And since this is not a naturally
tenable position for a whale, this poor innocent creature had very little time
to come to terms with its identity as a whale before it then had come to terms
with not being a whale anymore.
This is a complete record of its thought from the moment it
began its life till the moment it ended it.
Ah …! What’s happening? It thought.
Er, excuse me, who am I?
Why am I here? What’s my purpose in life?
What do I mean by who am I?
Calm down, get a grip now … oh! This is an interesting
sensation, what is it? It’s a sort of … yawning, tingling sensation in my … my
… well I suppose I’d better start finding names for things if I want to make
any headway in what for the sake of what I shall call an argument I shall call
the world, so let’s call it my stomach.
Good. Ooooh, it’s getting quite strong. And hey, what about
this whistling roaring sound going past what I’m suddenly going to call my head? Perhaps I can call that … wind! Is
that a good name? It’ll do … perhaps I can find a better name for it later when
I’ve found out what it’s for. It must be something very important because there
certainly seems to be a hell of a lot of it. Hey! What’s this thing? This …
let’s call it tail – yeah, tail. Hey! I can really trash it about pretty good
can’t I? Wow! Wow! That feels great! Doesn’t seem to achieve very much but I’ll
probably find out what it’s for later on. Now – have I built up any coherent
picture of things yet? No. Never mind, hey, this is really exciting, so much to
find out about, so much to look forward to, I’m quite dizzy with anticipation …
Or is it the wind?
There really is a lot of that now isn’t there?
And wow! Hey! What’s this thing suddenly coming towards me
very fast? Very very fast. So big and flat and round, it needs a big wide
sounding name like … ow … ound … round … ground! That’s it! That’s a good name
I wonder if it will be friends with me?
And the rest, after a sudden wet thud, was silence.
Curiously enough, the only thing that went through the mind
of the bowl of petunias as it fell was Oh no, not again. Many people have speculated
that if we knew exactly why the bowl of petunias had thought that we would know
a lot more about the nature of the universe than we do now.
Douglas Adams - “The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”
why do so many world leaders seem so….bass ackwards. I think Douglas Adams was right when he said “anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job”
What are some books that you would suggest as good for writers to be familiar with? not necessarily guideline books or anything, but books you've read that you enjoyed and think that other writers would enjoy them as well?
For a book that is about writing but that is not a “how to write X” type of book, I can recommend A Room of One’s Own. For books about writing in general (not all are guideline-type books), you can look here.
For examples of how to write certain styles or literary devices, I can recommend these:
Story of an Hour - This short story has great examples of irony and character development. It’s less than a thousand words, but is able to incorporate so much so well in such a small space. Every short story writer should read this.
Bliss - Bliss has great examples of symbolism, particularly in relation to female sexuality and fertility. The symbolism is obvious once you start to notice it, but the shapes, colors, and names that serve as symbols are not overdone because they are written well into the story.
Lolita- I know this is a hard book to read for some people because Nabokov uses pedophilia to portray the theme of obsession, but it has amazing prose and it’s a good example of a story that is heavy with description. It’s also a good example of challenging the audience. Like I said, Nabokov uses a controversial and taboo subject (pedophilia) to write about obsession. Many people are not able to get past the controversial subject to realize the theme of the story.
Hills Like White Elephants - This short story is a great example of a story heavy in dialogue and subtext. I’ll tell you right now that in the story, the two characters are talking about whether or not to get an abortion and how this choice will change their lives. There’s also a lot of symbolism relating to the subject of the conversation.
Never Let Me Go - This is one of the greatest books I’ve ever read. The character interactions are fantastic and Ishiguro (the author) really knows how to pull at the audience’s emotions.
The Alchemist - I feel like this is one of those books everyone should read, whether they’re a writer or not. This book seriously changes lives and it can teach you a lot about failure, working hard, finding your destiny, and chasing your ambitions and dreams. These lessons can be applied to writing.
Here are some authors I think all writers should check out:
Toni Morrison - Morrison’s prose is honest and her characters are truly individuals. Read her work if you want to work on description, symbolism, motifs, and character development. One thing that is shown in all her stories is the honesty in her description. She does not leave out the gritty details and she really tells things like they actually happen.
James Joyce* - Joyce mostly writes in stream of consciousness, which is both hard to read and hard to write, yet he does it better than anyone out there (so far). Read his work to get a sense of this type of prose and of character development and interactions.
Neil Gaiman - For you fantasy writers out there who want to stay away from writing long book series or trilogies but can’t just seem to write a fantasy stand alone, read some of Neil Gaiman’s fantasy stand alone novels. He can fit entire worlds, stories, and characters into one book.
Zora Neale Hurston - Those who are not familiar with the particular dialect that Hurston’s character use are going to have trouble reading her work, but her stories have great prose and characters.
Orson Scott Card - I have a lot of problems with the author as a person (he’s extremely homophobic), but his writing is amazing and I learned a lot about characters from reading Speaker for the Dead. The aforementioned book is a good example of a sequel that can stand alone, i.e. you do not have to read the first book to know what is going on in the second book.
Douglas Adams - Adams does funny right, and he writes great science fiction. If you want to add some humor to your writing without overdoing it or without making it seem out of place, read some of his stuff.
*Some of his stories might require some background information on what was happening in Ireland during the time the stories were written to understand why characters behave certain ways or say certain things.
Today I was at a house where I’ll be doing some painting and art, down in their basement billiards room.
Much like Poe, I heard a rapping, tapping on the cellar door window. When I finally went to see what was causing it, this is the face that greeted me:
The basement window wells at this house are very deep, about 4’, and this young crow had somehow hopped or fallen into one – and it couldn’t get out. Look closely, and you’ll see that it still has blue eyes, because it’s really just a fledgling.
It’s at times like these that I know Douglas Adams was right, and a towel really is one of the Universe’s most useful items. I borrowed an old beach towel from the clients, hopped into the window well and gently tossed the towel over the terrified crow. Birds have an interesting reaction wherein, when they can’t see, their brains sort of shift into Neutral. That and the protective layer of fabric allowed me to get the young crow out of the hole without either of us getting hurt. That beak looked really, REALLY sharp.
When I unwrapped the towel, the poor crow simply lay still, as if in a daze, for quite a while. I could probably have stroked its feathers, but it had been through more than enough trauma by then.
I found Crow Junior on the sidewalk later on, when I was leaving work. It got through the fence (eventually, hah) and then called for its family, and within a minute there were about five adult crows gathered, cursing at me for being so close. They’d converged on their youngster and clearly were going to take care of it until it could get back into the trees on its own.